By Rachel Young
For the safety of Fort Lewis aviators, several hundred trees will be removed from the post’s cantonment area during June.
The trees must be removed so that Gray Army Airfield approaches will comply with Federal Aviation Administration regulations. Currently, there are trees extending as much as 98 feet into the approach and departure clearance surfaces of the airfield.
The FAA has given the airfield 12-18 months to remove the penetrating trees in the airfield’s approach, or it will be decertified. “(The removal) is done for safety,” said Allan Derrickson, Fort Lewis installation forester. “Nobody wants to do this.”
Most of the trees will be removed from the visible and high trafficked areas of post because of Gray Army Airfield’s unique location. This will include trees around the PX and the Parkway housing area.
To comply with FAA regulations, the airfield’s approach and landing surfaces must have an obstacle free plane with a slope of 50:1, meaning for every 50 horizontal feet of approach, there must be one vertical foot in which there are no obstacles. For Gray Army Airfield, this means an area 9,000 feet wide, extending 25,200 horizontal feet from the airfield, and 500 vertical feet above the airfield. Any obstacles must fall 10 feet below this 50:1 slope.
Because of the penetrating trees, the airfield is already operating under limited conditions, said Robert Rodriguez, aviation division chief and commander of Gray Army Airfield. The airfield can only use its Precision Approach Radar in weather conditions in which there is a minimum 400-foot cloud cover and visibility no less than one mile, according to John Graf, air traffic control chief and air traffic and airspace officer for Gray Army Airfield.
If there were no limitations, the airfield would be able to use PAR with a 200-foot cloud ceiling and three quarters of a mile visibility. The approach to one runway is not available at all at night, Graf said.
“Our Instrument Landing System weather minimums went from a 300-foot cloud ceiling to 400 feet,” Graf said. “Circling to land to Runway 33 is not authorized at night on this approach either.”
By the end of June, enough trees must be removed from the approach to create a slope of 34:1 for Gray Army Airfield to regain its usual weather and visibility minimums.
To meet this deadline, a contractor will begin removing trees around the beginning of June, Derrickson said. Most of the trees scheduled for removal are Douglas fir, a tree that is invasive to Fort Lewis’ natural prairie ecosystem.
The trees will be sold and 40 percent of the net profit will go to local counties for roads and schools, Derrickson said. The rest will be put in the Army Reimbursable Forestry Account, which will help Army posts everywhere.
“That money is used nationwide to fund forestry operations on Army posts,” Derrickson said.
Once the trees are removed, landscaping engineers will come and create a landscaping plan.
“We have to figure out how to replace the trees that are coming out with something else that doesn’t grow so tall and will be suitable for the environment,” Derrickson said. “That’s where we need an expert to come in and help us.”